Repeat Tahrir Square in Pyongyang?

For those wondering if Tahrir Square and similar events across North Africa and the Middle East can be repeated in Pyongyang, recent headlines out of Korea appear to answer the question. While their compatriots are busy using the Internet and social media to link up for everything from brainstorming to demonstrations, North Korean college students are serving as corvee labor on construction projects.

And not just any construction – the conditions, work schedule, and lack of safety are reportedly so bad that “hundreds” (also in Korean) are dying from the forced labor (additional English info here). These students aren’t being punished for committing a crime, they are simply being put to work to help beautify Pyongyang for next year’s centennial of Kim Il-sung’s birth.

Other dictators may come and go, but the Kim family has been hanging on to power since the late 1940s. You don’t stay in power that long, through war, famine, economic collapse, and the death of the regime founder, by being stupid, or weak. By telling its workers caught in Libya to stay away, and keeping its college students occupied with manual labor, the North is attempting to inoculate itself from the Jasmine Revolution.

Chances of success? High. If the ruling clan can handle the collapse of the Soviet Union, disappearance of the Eastern Bloc, the blossoming of democracy in South Korea, and the massive economic changes in China, they should be able to handle changes in far-off Africa.

Wild cards? The health of Kim Jong-il and the continued ability of the regime to control the flow of outside information into the country. The loss of either changes the equation – which is why some advocate crashing the censors by pushing more outside information into the North.

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